Summer photo tips from a Michigan photographer

Posted on June 10th, 2021

Michigan’s Upper Peninsula is an amazing location with a diverse expanse of photo opportunities. While traveling in the U.P., it is easy to be inspired to take hundreds or thousands of photos. However, it takes dedication, planning and situational adaptability to consistently create interesting, unique and engaging images. Being outside with a camera is key but there is more to it than that. 

I like to know as much as I can before I go out. I look at maps and select potential routes, and search for information about the condition of dirt roads and hiking trails. It’s best to utilize websites that feature information on weather, including marine weather and space weather, moon position, sun position and more to determine location and timing. This research makes it more likely that I will be in the right place at the right time. 

Upper Tahquamenon Falls by Joshua Nowicki

I review photos I have already taken to inspire new compositions, look for ways to improve and remember the challenges I faced in the past. I also look at photos other people have taken and identify what the iconic frequently taken images of a location look like. I use this to plan how to take a similar photograph and/or start thinking about ways to create unique photographs of a popular location. While looking at these photos, I create a list of what I would ideally like to capture during the trip. This helps me prioritize where to spend time.

When planning your trip, be sure to set realistic travel goals. Michigan’s Upper Peninsula is expansive, and though some places may be close as the crow flies, the drive and/or hike from one location to the next may take quite a bit of time. Additionally, be generous with the amount of time you dedicate to every location so that you can deviate from your original plan. I have found that some of the best opportunities were not planned, they were discovered. So give yourself time for discoveries.

Many popular sightseeing locations have parking lots that are relatively close by, which makes it easy to access anything you need or forgot in your car.  However, you are likely going to hike to many locations during the trip. As a result, you will need to pack carefully and as lightly as possible. 

Even in the summer, mornings and evenings may be cool. As a result, you will want to wear clothing that allows you to adjust as the temperature changes. For camera gear, I like to bring three lenses: a wide-angle, a telephoto and a macro lens. If you want to pack even lighter, consider a zoom lens that covers a range of focal lengths and macro filters which can attach to the zoom lens. Additionally, a neutral density filter is useful especially for photographing moving water such as waterfalls. Other camera gear I like to carry includes a lightweight and compact tripod, intervalometer, extra batteries and extra memory cards. It is also wise to pack snacks, water, a cell phone, area and/or trail maps, a flashlight, a compass, a fire starter kit, a pocket knife and an emergency blanket. 

Isle Royale by Joshua Nowicki

If you are planning to travel to some of the more remote locations, it is best to bring a friend. Companionship is great for long hikes. Moreover, for safety, it is advisable to have someone to assist if help is needed. Be respectful of private property and protected areas, and stay in designated walkways where applicable. Always strive to take amazing photographs while preserving the locations for future visitors. Additionally, during summer months, some locations can be busy. Be considerate of the amount of time you spend in popular spots so that others can enjoy the view. If you want to dedicate more time to a specific location, consider arriving early in the morning as they tend to be less busy. 

While hiking, I keep the telephoto lens on the camera. The reason for this is that I like to look for wildlife as I walk, and there are often only fleeting moments to capture an image. Scenes that require wider lenses often are not as short-lived, giving you time to change to the appropriate one. During the hike is a great time to photograph things like wildflowers, stones, trees, etc. I also enjoy looking for interesting textures and patterns to create abstract images.  

Once you arrive at your planned location, it is time to determine the specific spots to take the photos. If I do not already have something in mind, I like to walk around with the camera handheld taking photos of anything that catches my eye. After taking some photos, I stop and review the images. I consider what I like and dislike about the images and figure out what can be improved. Sometimes an image can be drastically improved simply by changing the lens or zooming in or out, adjusting the exposure, moving slightly to include or exclude an element, or using a tripod. 

The hardest part of photographing popular locations is creating unique images. People tend to congregate in only a few spots to take the iconic photo. As a result, you should watch other visitors and look for places where they are not taking photographs. At times, there are additional viewpoints further down trails where fewer people go. You may also consider using storytelling to drive your compositions. There is usually, a lot more than the popular scene. Capture the trails and/or wooden walkways, focus on a foreground element like leaves, branches, flowers or stone. Capture the way the water moves or how the wind blows the sand. Work on crafting a story through your images that encapsulates the details and feels of a particular location. 

Grand Island Overlook by Joshua Nowicki

The biggest advice I can give about creating a unique image is to work slowly. It is crucial to take the time to appreciate the nuances of a place and see compositions that others overlook. Although you may have a long list of photos you would like to take, it is important to be patient. The longer I wait and watch the more in tune I become with my surroundings. Look for that magic moment when everything comes together. Sometimes that means waiting for a cloud to better diffuse the light. Waiting for another guest to move. Studying the rhythm of crashing waves. Observing the movement of sailboats, ships or wildlife and finding the precise moment when they make a positive addition to your composition.   

If you are after truly one-of-a-kind images, plan to wake early and stay up late. The Northern lights, Milky Way, moon and more are all worth a little lack of sleep. Additionally, make good use of blue hour (the hour before sunrise or after sunset). The balance of light and dark and vibrant blue of the sky can improve many landscape photos. If you are going to be taking photos at night it is important to do research and make sure that the location you would like to go to is accessible because some locations close at dusk and reopen at dawn. 

Despite our best planning efforts, at times the weather does not cooperate. However, there are still a wealth of photography opportunities. Being adaptable is a key to making the most out of a photography vacation because great photo opportunities exist in any weather. It may be as simple as packing a rain jacket and rain cover for the camera. 

Things to consider on rainy days are: Photograph the variety of clouds; there are so many different types, from fluffy clouds that look like cotton candy to dramatic fear-inspiring storm clouds. Look for light breaking through the clouds; capturing a scene lit only with a few rays of light can be quite dramatic. If it is raining but there are some breaks in the clouds, look for rainbows. 

Isle Royale by Joshua Nowicki

When there is mist or fog, it is a wonderful opportunity for creating ethereal, spooky and mysterious scenes. Find puddles of water to take reflection photos. The glassy mirror-like surface of a puddle can be a lot of fun to work with to create an eye-catching image. Utilize droplets of water. Focus on the droplets of water and try to capture the color of the background scene in them or reflections in the droplets. Or look at the way water beads up on leaves and flowers. 

Rainy days are also a great time to photograph the stones along the Great Lakes shorelines. Wet stones are so much prettier than dry, you can see so much more details and color. Moreover, because you can not collect stone from places like the National Lakeshore you can bring home your finds in the form of photographs. 

Most importantly do not give up on the chance of a sunrise or sunset on rainy days. At times when there is only a tiny almost imperceptible opening on the horizon an extremely dramatic and colorful sunrise or sunset can result. Some of the most amazing photos I have taken have occurred on days when I did not expect to see the sunlight at all. It is all about being there to see it if it occurs.

The Upper Peninsula’s beautiful and highly varied 1,700 miles of scenic sparkling shorelines, numerous waterfalls and pristine forests offer a wealth of photographic opportunities. So many that it is impossible to appreciate them all in one trip. I recommend planning several trips and taking the time to not only take photographs but take a relaxing walk along the shoreline, hike the extensive trail systems, drive down quiet country roads and discover the hidden gems. 

Be safe, take and post a lot of photos, and be sure to hashtag yours with #uptravel.

Joshua Nowicki